Former Madison Students Party Like It's 1986

Former Madison Students Party Like It's 1986

Members of Madison’s class of ’86 gather for their 20-year reunion Saturday night.

A few still live in town, but some members of James Madison High School’s class of ’86 flew in from as far from Australia for last Saturday’s 20-year reunion. As the music of Motley Crue, The B-52s and Def Leppard blasted through the ballroom at the Tysons Corner Doubletree Hotel, about 150 former classmates danced, drank and reacquainted themselves with each other. Many had spouses with them, but the women were going by their maiden names for the evening.

George Richman was from the class of ’85, but he was at the Doubletree because he had married ’86er Susan Hendricks some 10 years after graduating. The two had been reintroduced when Hendricks came back to town on a visit.

“We didn’t date in high school, either, so it’s kind of interesting,” said Richman. However, he recalled that they had gone together to see “The Breakfast Club” at the theater and Black Flag at the 9:30 Club in D.C. because they had mutual friends.

The couple now lives in Los Angeles, where Hendricks is a literacy resource specialist and script supervisor and Richman is a visual effects artist currently working on “Spider-Man 3.”

Also working on movies was Lewis Wickham, who appeared in the movie “Elvis Has Left the Building” and will be seen in the upcoming movies “Employee of the Month,” starring Jessica Simpson, and “The Flock,” with Richard Gere and Claire Danes. Wickham also performs stand-up comedy.

In high school, however, he was renowned for something else. “I had the killer pool parties back then. That’s all I was famous for,” he said.

THE REUNION was organized by a committee of eight women who had been friends at Madison. Bridgette Tolson chaired the effort. “It was getting close to 20 years, and no one had said anything, so I said I’d do it,” she said, noting that the class had already missed its opportunity for a 10-year reunion but made up for it with an 11-year reunion.

The task was made easier, she said, by the fact that many groups of friends had stayed in contact over the years. “I think a lot of that has to do with the Town of Vienna,” said Tolson, crediting the lasting bonds, in part, to Vienna’s small-town ambiance.

“We all want to reconnect to the people who were important to us,” said Joy Smith, the committee member and former class officer who had assembled much of the class memorabilia that was on display.

“Last night, watching everybody connect from 20 years ago, it was awesome,” said Joelle Roman, also on the reunion committee. About 100 classmates had gathered at Mr. Smith’s the night before for happy hour, just as Roman recalled them gathering to drink Milwaukee’s Best beer at each other’s homes years ago. “Every single cop in Vienna came to every party we had,” she said. “But we had a lot of parties.”

Jeff Masterson said Georgetown, where the drinking age was 18 at the time, had also been a popular meeting place.

He said the class had not pulled off a major senior prank, although a large number of real estate signs had been stolen and placed on the school’s front lawn, and someone had broken several letters off the sign over the front walkway so that “James Madison High” became “James is High.” “But nobody really looked, you know?”

Roman recalled that the class had made T-shirts with the initials S.O.M.F., ostensibly standing for “Some of Madison’s Finest” but holding an alternate, less printable, significance to the students.

“We were a bunch of rebels, a bunch of partiers, and everyone kind of procrastinated,” said Jen Sherwin, who was on the organizing committee. The reunion came together in a similar fashion, she said, “but everyone showed up.”

Before graduation, she had been voted “most likely to be remembered.” She said she thought most classmates present remembered her, although everyone checked everyone else’s name tag whether they thought they recognized each other or not. Sherwin is now the vice president of operations for an investment bank in Arlington.

ONE MEMBER of the class who was not immediately recognizable was Greg Wheeler, who Sherwin recalled as being somewhat small and shy in high school.

Wheeler is now a slightly large-ish, well-tanned man with a wide smile, slicked-back hair and a tall, attractive wife. “I was a little, skinny guy in high school,” he said, although he added that he never considered himself particularly quiet. Wheeler is now a physical therapist and owns two outpatient clinics in Florida.

“Nobody recognized him when we got here,” said his wife, Donna Wheeler. The two also own a farm where they raise thoroughbred racehorses.

Wheeler attributed his growth spurt to late blooming, chili cheese fries and Budweiser.

J.R. Runyon, who had played on the defensive line for Madison’s football team, said the team may not have gone to a championship game his senior year, but they played well enough. “We beat Oakton. That was the most important thing senior year. And we beat Marshall,” he said. “That’s what counts.”

In the first game of the season, Madison had defeated Oakton High School by a touchdown. That winning touchdown was caught by John Arehart, who said his mother still has on display the picture of him that ran in the paper following his catch. It was Arehart who flew in from Australia, where he is participating in an exchange program between the U.S. and Australian air forces. “I hadn’t seen my family in a while, so I decided it would be a good time to come back,” he said.

“We didn’t fulfill our potential,” Scott Pagano said of the football team. “We went undefeated for two years, and then, senior year, we couldn’t pull it together for some reason.” Pagano had played as a combination running back with Jay Cassello, who all agreed had been the backbone of the team.

Wickham noted that Cassello is now a captain in the U.S. Air Force, where he is a Special Forces rescue jumper and has been deployed three times to the Iraq/Afghanistan theater of operations and once to New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.

Cassello, however, declined to comment on his accomplishments, insisting that the women present were far more interesting subjects than his own stories.